True wireless earphones such as the AirPods Pro have demonstrated just how much can be achieved in a small form factor, while the Redmi Earbuds S have proven that you don't need to spend too much for decent true wireless sound. Somewhere between these two extremes is a particularly interesting price segment that doesn't quite get enough attention, due to not having too many high-profile launches. Creative looks to make a mark on the Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 10,000 space with the Outlier Air true wireless earphones.
Singapore-based Creative is among the older names in the computer audio business, and is credited with developing some of the best affordable personal audio products of modern times, including the excellent Creative EP-630 wired earphones. Today, I'm reviewing the Creative Outlier Air, a promising new true wireless headset priced at Rs. 6,999. Is this the best true wireless headset you can buy for less than Rs. 10,000? Find out in this review.
Straight out of the box, the Outlier Air looks and feels exactly as you would expect of a Creative product. The earphones are quite large, but their plastic bodies keep them light enough to stay in your ears comfortably. All of the included ear tips are small and don't offer much grip inside the ear, but the design of the earphones lets them sit securely in your outer ears, also resulting in good passive noise isolation. There are large contact points for charging on the insides of each earpiece.
The earphones each have light rings around the outer side, and physical buttons for controls instead of touch sensors. The lights might look good, but can be quite distracting for people around you as they are bright enough to slightly illuminate a completely dark room. The lights stay off when something is playing on the earphones. They illuminate only when the earphones are connected but not in use, in pairing mode, or charging with the case open. Indicator lights are useful, but the Creative Outlier Air overdoes this a bit.
The buttons are incredibly firm and quite difficult to press when wearing the earphones. The on-device controls cover everything including playback, answering calls, adjusting the volume, and invoking the voice assistant on your smartphone, but what happens depends on whether you have audio playing or not.
With music playing, it was possible to play and pause music (single press), skip to the next or previous track (double press on the right or left earphone respectively), adjust the volume (press and hold the left or right button). You can only activate the voice assistant with a double-press when audio playback is paused, and adjust the volume when it's playing. When I tried to adjust the volume with the music paused by pressing and holding the button, it disconnected the earphones and went into pairing mode. All of this was quite complicated to remember, and I found myself sticking to my smartphone to control the earphones to avoid any mis-hits.
Although the earphones are plastic, the Creative Outlier Air has a rather impressively built metal charging case. It's quite large and has a sliding mechanism for opening and closing, which I found a bit old-fashioned and inconvenient. The earphones should snap in place magnetically, but this didn't always happen on the first attempt, leaving them paired to my smartphone and not charging despite being in the case. All of this means the case is a bit clunky and difficult to use. The case has a USB Type-C port for charging and four indicators to show the charging status of the individual earphones and the case itself, and warn you of low power on the case, which does slightly make up for its shortcomings.
Battery life is decent on the Creative Outlier Air, with the earphones running for around eight hours on a single charge, and the case offering an additional two full charges. This gave the headset a total battery life of around 24 hours per cycle. This is quite good given the price of the Outlier Air, and the eight-hour figure for the earphones is on the higher side in the affordable and mid-range true wireless segments.
The Creative Outlier Air features 5.6mm graphene dynamic drivers, and is IPX5 rated for water resistance. The headset uses Bluetooth 5 for connectivity, and is capable of remembering up to two paired source devices so you can switch between them quickly. It also supports the SBC, AAC, and aptX Bluetooth codecs, making this among the more affordable options with support for the superior aptX codec.
Interestingly though, the earphones didn't allow manual codec selection for me, and automatically switched to the best codec depending on the device in use. This was aptX on my Android smartphone, but AAC on my MacBook Air, even though the laptop does support the aptX codec. This wasn't often a problem for me, but I would have liked the ability to switch.
While I usually speak highly of the Qualcomm aptX Bluetooth codec and any headphones that support it, it's worth noting that having or not having this codec doesn't necessarily make a pair of headphones or earphones good or bad. Headsets such as the Blaupunkt BTW Pro don't sound too good despite support for the codec, while the Apple AirPods, Jabra Elite 75t, and Samsung Galaxy Buds+ sound very good even without it.
The Creative Outlier Air is among the various headphones I've tested that puts Qualcomm aptX support to very good use. There was a noticeable difference in the sound when using my smartphone as compared to when using my laptop. The earphones sound good even on the AAC codec, but there was a marked improvement with the Android smartphone using aptX.
Starting with Light It Up by Major Lazer, the Creative Outlier Air made for a lively, exciting, and driven sonic signature that suited this reggae-inspired dance track very well. The synthesised bass was aggressive and energetic, but remained calculated and held back just enough to allow for other elements of the track to be heard and enjoyed clearly. The sound felt a bit warm at first, but there's plenty of sparkle in the mid-range and highs as well. The sonic signature can be balanced and warm at the same time.
Switching to something a little slower and gentler, I played a high-resolution version of Days To Come by Bonobo. Some of the gentler instrumental elements were sharp and distinct, but it was here that the aggressive bass tended to take centre stage and overpower the vocals and the faintest elements of the track. It naturally didn't sound as clean and detailed as the balanced armature variant of the Shanling MTW100 which has superior drivers, but the level of detail and the sonic capabilities were good enough for the price.
Back to Spotify and lively, fast-paced tracks, I played Feel The Love by Rudimental, and promptly heard exactly what the Creative Outlier Air is best at. These earphones are quite capable of keeping up with the pace of fast, busy tracks, keeping things cohesive and exciting through and through.
This drum-and-bass track starts off slow and then gets fast and busy around 90 seconds in; the Outlier Air capable kept up with these changes, offering up enough detail and a decent soundstage, for an immersive and fun listening experience all through. The bass was punchy, allowing just enough detail in the mid-range and highs to sneak through without audibly changing the character of the track.
While the sound was best at around the 60-70 percent volume mark, the Creative Outlier Air could go up to around the 85 percent level before I heard a bit of distortion. That said, the earphones are suitably loud even at the 80 percent volume level, and you won't find yourself needing to go beyond that point too often.
The Creative Outlier Air is decent enough for calls, offering loud, clear sound on both ends. Even outdoors, the earphones performed well and managed to isolate my voice, with the person on the other end reporting very little background sound. Both earpieces have microphones, and you can use either one individually if you like.
The mid-range true wireless segment hasn't seen too many major launches in the last few months, so the Creative Outlier Air comes as a breath of fresh air (pun unintended) to a segment that I believe is neglected and has much potential to grow. The design of the earphones and charging case is less than ideal, but the Creative Outlier Air makes up for these minor shortcomings with USB Type-C charging, good battery life, and very good sound for the price.
Although held back a bit by its dynamic drivers, the Creative Outlier Air puts Qualcomm's aptX Bluetooth codec to good use, offering up lively and energetic sound across genres. The bass can get a bit too much at times and the earphones do face some issues with distortion at very high volumes, but on the whole, this is a very good pair of true wireless earphones for the price of Rs. 6,999.
In this price segment, you could also consider my previous favourite in the segment, the 1More Stylish True Wireless earphones which also support aptX. However, better battery life and USB Type-C charging give the Creative Outlier Air an edge here, and makes it my new top pick for less than Rs. 10,000.
Price: Rs. 6,999
Ratings (out of 5)
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